In the spirit of "horses for courses", is the SE software the best platform for the meta site? At MathOverflow, they use a traditional forum for the meta site and I feel that it works very well. Things on meta don't always coalesce into straightfoward "question and answer"; sometimes a discussion is warranted, sometimes a post is simply for information - as an example, I just posted a proposed tag merge; on MO there is a permanent thread where people can post such proposals meaning that it doesn't bother anyone else and the moderators have a single place to check.

What does anyone else think?


I'd like to add a couple of points in favour of a traditional forum:

  1. The purpose of the meta site is to deal with issues arising from the main site. From experience at MathOverflow (the most successful of the first round SE sites), these are often issues where there is some disagreement and where it is important to be sure that different viewpoints are heard. So discussions are not just encouraged, they are necessary.

  2. The comparisons with how it works on SO are invalid. The SO trilogy is not community led in the same way as this site is community led. The SO trilogy has a (benevolent) dictatorship and so the dynamics of SO are different to the dynamics here. On SO it's much more "What's the rules on this?" or "How do I do that?" whereas here it's going to be "What should the rule on this be?" or "Should we ask SE for the ability to do that?". For example, after spending yesterday on tex and meta-tex, I have no clear idea of who's "in charge" or even if anyone is "in charge". MathOverflow [MO] also has a benevolent dictatorship, but many of the early users "out-ranked" said dictator in real life and so felt no compunction about speaking their mind! So, I feel, the comparison with MO is much stronger than with SO and having a traditional forum for meta has really helped us shape MO to the useful tool that it is for mathematicians.

  3. The canard about forums being a disaster area is also not relevant. My experience of forums (fora?) is entirely positive because (I think) those forums exist for something outside of themselves. The nForum (which I run) exists to serve the purpose of the nLab, and so it's easy to identify inappropriate behaviour. Similarly meta.MO exists to serve MO and again it's easy to identify inappropriate behaviour. A meta.TeX forum would have the same link. No sane person would "hang around" on meta.TeX just to troll it. Even the insane ones (and we get plenty of those in mathematics) tend to keep away.

I once saw a picture on Jeff Attwood's blog where he drew a Venn diagram with wikis, forums, and blogs as three big circles whose intersection was SO. I completely agree with that diagram, but I draw a completely different conclusion from it. The SO software combines features of all three, but also loses features of each of them. So if you want the features that SO provides, it's fantastic. But as soon as you need something a little more like one of the other three types, the SO software creaks at the seams.

But that's not a problem. As a die-hard Linux user, that's just how the best systems work! Lots of small programs, each doing one thing and doing it well, add up to a global system that doesn't just beat the competition, it beats it, whips it, and puts it in the oven to make a delicious cake out of the pieces.

  • What is it you want from a forum specifically? Chronological ordering of posts? Notifications when people reply? Sticky threads? I don't really see what forum features it is that we need so desperately. Looking at the questions here on Meta so far, which ones of them have been crippled by the shortcomings of SE?
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:29
  • Actually, let's use this question as an example. What is wrong with the discussion going on here? What about it would be better on a forum? One huge advantage I see right here and now is the distinction between answers (sorted by popularity) and comments (chronological) and up/downvotes. This gives me an easy way to see "what are the main arguments being in play", how much support they have, as well as "what do people actually think of each one".
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:40
  • With a forum, I'd have one long hodgepodge of brilliant new ideas, comments and criticisms of prior suggestions, requests for clarification of the question and a number of "me too" posts. On SE, the latter don't exist at all because we can just vote/rep. I think SE is much better for constructive, manageable discussion.
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:41
  • @jalf: I think that your response just shows that you have no intention of listening to other perspectives. Your SO experience is not necessarily applicable here. Commented Aug 5, 2010 at 21:24
  • 1
    @Harry: I'm not sure how you arrive at that conclusion, or how you determine the relevance of SO vs MO experience.
    – jalf
    Commented Aug 7, 2010 at 13:24
  • Also, now that we've been running with this meta site for a week or two, has it changed how anyone feels on the subject? Do you feel that the meta site hampers discussion? Does it work better than anticipated?
    – jalf
    Commented Aug 7, 2010 at 13:27
  • @jalf, yes, clearly... Commented Aug 8, 2010 at 5:42
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    @jaif: personally, I find this place an absolute mess. It's hard to find stuff, it's hard to track stuff, it's hard to navigate. I do find it interesting that the voices for a forum are those of people who have actually tried it as a meta site. That said, however, it's not an issue I'm going to fight over - I'll just leave the suggestion "on record", as it were. Commented Aug 9, 2010 at 17:41

5 Answers 5


I would prefer a traditional forum for meta, based on my MathOverflow experience.


I'm happy with a SE-based Meta site. A "traditional" forum leads to so many problems of its own, and I feel that it encourages discussion more than necessary. Just because it's a meta site doesn't mean everything on it should take the form of a discussion.

I prefer sticking with SE for Meta

  • 3
    I feel that an SE/SO site discourages discussion to the point that it is almost impossible to have any discussion. For example, if you reply to this comment, how do I get notified of that? Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 18:05
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    @Andrew Stacey: By including their @Name in the comment (like I did in this comment), you will be notified through the 'envelope' icon at the top of the screen. Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 22:01
  • @Robert Cartaino et al: so if there's a discussion with lots of people involved then I have to list everyone's name at the start of the comment? I could quickly run out of characters before I've said anything! Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 7:05
  • @Andrew: but is that often the case? If it is a busy discussion and you are interested in it, you check back anyway. Or we'll do without your input because so many others are contributing to it. I've had plenty of discussions on SE-based sites, and I think it works well enough. (And most forum software is pretty lousy at reply notifications anyway)
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:20
  • @Andrew Oh, and if you want to be notified of updates, use the RSS feed: meta.tex.stackexchange.com/feeds/question/53
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:25
  • @jaif: Ouch! Not every important discussion is busy, and not everyone has time to go chasing round links to see if any of them have changed recently. The forum software at meta.MO works great, IMHO. Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:27
  • @jaif: So I've got to subscribe to a different RSS feed for every single question that might be interesting? No thanks! Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:28
  • @Andrew: if you want to keep up with a specific discussion, you have the option of doing so, for example by subscribing to its feed. How many different meta discussions are you planning to monitor in every detail? I'm usually happy to manually check the few I'm really invested in, and otherwise just check when I get notified by @jalf replies. I don't think we want a meta site where you can "monitor every single question that might be interesting".
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:36
  • Forums tend to encourage everyone to participate in everything. I think a better model for Meta is for people to participate in the discussions they care about only.
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:36

I think that it works for stackoverflow.com and its meta site. And about the example you mention, you can open a "question" about merging tags where each "answer" is a proposal that can be discussed in the comments.

  • 2
    It might work, but does it work well? And discussion just does not work on the SE sites, anywhere, anyhow! Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 13:01
  • It works well, when it's CW. Commented Jul 27, 2010 at 21:46
  • @Amir Rachum: could you expand on that? How does CW make the slightest difference? Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 7:05
  • I think many forms of discussion work very well on SE. True, it doesn't work well for those running-for-3-years threads with 4000 replies and where no one ever reads posts that aren't on the currently last page. But I think it works better than forums for discussions that are supposed to actually lead to a consensus or decision. And I feel the latter are the more important to accomodate here. :)
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:32

I think SE meta is the best option. Because:

  1. You don't have to learn a new interface.
  2. You don't have to maintain a new system (this is for the admins, but still).
  3. When you see a question (or a discussion) you immediately see the most important post/ most agreed upon opinion, which is preferable to a forum when you have to read EVERYTHING to get to the important part - this is the biggie folks.
  4. If an issue is resolved, you can see it immediately (accepted answer).
  5. Tagging.
  6. You can vote on discussion points and cases (answers) - this is GREAT, because there aren't hundreds of "I agree" posts like would happen in a forum.
  7. It makes people discuss things in a practical, pragmatic tone (no philosophy discussions with no point).
  8. CW helps us write FAQs, etc. by community editing.

These are all I can think of off the top of my head.


We don't know until we try =)

How do metas are working out for other area51 beta sites? they seem to work out well enough. And aren't we having a discussion here and right now?

  • Yep. I think it's a pretty important point that discussions aren't always chronological. The answers here constitute a discussion, but there's no required ordering. Often (but not always), having the "popular" answers flow to the top is better than a strict chronological ordering, even for discussions. And for the cases where you do need chronological ordering, we've got comments. I think it works well
    – jalf
    Commented Jul 28, 2010 at 12:22

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